The Cleveland Cavaliers picked up a very important road win over the Toronto Raptors, as a great LeBron James performance included getting harshly fouled by Jonas Valanciunas, something that made him very angry and dangerous in the fourth quarter.
The Lithuanian center decided to tackle James as he was making his way to the basket in the third quarter. When James attacks the basket with momentum, there isn’t much else to do in order to stop him. In any case, James wasn’t happy with the foul, refusing any sort of help from Valanciunas in getting up. The Raptors fans were quite happy as the play was reviewed on the big screen, but they weren’t happy with what it unleashed in James after the quarter break.
James did miss the two free throws following the flagrant foul, having another so-so day from the line (8-of-13). However, he more than made up for it in the final quarter with 15 points out of his total of 29, including some risky yet highly rewarding 3-pointers and also adding 14 assists to his final stat line. He scored or assisted on 55% of the Cavs’ 120 points in the 8-point win, and was involved in some way with 21 of their final 25 points. He’s responsible for 42.5% of the Cavs’ points when playing this season.
James took off after the Raptors took a 96-95 lead in the fourth. Up to that point James hadn’t scored yet, but completely dominated from that moment. The Cavaliers did well in the finale despite not playing with Kevin Love, scoring 22 points but not preferred by David Blatt as one of the closers for this team. Kyrie Irving had another fine performance with 26 points and 8 assists, while J.R. Smith carried on with his surprising efficiency, scoring 15 points on 6-of-12 from the field. James didn’t miss a shot from the field and went 5-of-6 from the moment the Raptors got a brief, small lead.
Both teams shot very well from beyond the arc. The sliding Raptors hit 47.6% of their 3-point attempts while the Cavaliers, shooting 36 times from beyond the arc, made 41.7% of their shots. The more important number in all of this is the records. The Cavaliers improve to 39-24 while the Raptors, falling apart since the All-Star break, just like the Washington Wizards, are down to 38-23. The Cavaliers have also won the season series between the teams, taking three of four games, which might give them a meaningful edge should it come to a tiebreaker between them.
The Raptors finally shot well from the field (54.4%) but their defense couldn’t slow down James or the Cavaliers, allowing them 51.3% shooting and sent them to the line 34 times. They’ve won just once in the last seven games and even that was against the Philadelphia 76ers. With that slide, the rise of the Cavaliers and sort of the same from the Bulls, all three teams are tied at 2-3-4 in the East, sitting 10.5 games behind the Atlanta Hawks, who aren’t likely to lose their grip on the top seed.